King Husain’s determination to drag his frail body out of its hospital bed to help ‘president’ Yassir Arafat sell out to Israel during the October ‘peace talks’ at the Wye Plantation, Maryland, demonstrates the Hashimite monarch has not lost any of his zeal as a western and Israeli surrogate after 46 years of loyal service (On January 5, the Jordanian monarch bid a teary farewell in Washington to US president Bill Clinton, who is facing impeachment in the senate). And if Israel’s stated confidence in crown prince Hasan is anything to go by, the shameful tradition will continue beyond the death of the ailing king.
The only snag, indeed fear, as far as the west and Israel are concerned, is that the succession might not be trouble-free, although the 51-year-old Hasan has been his brother’s designated heir for 33 years, and has been running the country during the king’s treatment for cancer in America. Not only has Husain been sending out signals that he prefers one of his sons to succeed him, Queen Noor and the former queens are also openly pushing their respective claims of their own sons.
Fears over the succession are real, as the cancer of the lymph glands the king is suffering from is believed to be terminal. At one stage he was given only months to live. Exactly how ill he had been was shown on television screens worldwide when he appeared with Clinton at the Wye ‘peace talks’ on October 20, after being discharged the previous day from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he had been undergoing a course of chemotherapy. The ‘spectoral image’ of the king, as one report put it, shocked everyone into believing that he had indeed only a few months to live.
It was clearly distasteful of Clinton to press a dying man into service. But he ‘needed an agreement badly and he did not care too much about the distastefulness of the display,’ a newspaper report explained - adding that this did not matter as the ‘king would probably have volunteered to do it anyway.’ The pictures, also relayed on Jordanian television, shocked the population. And prince Hasan - determined to keep members of the press, recently antagonized by a new draconian press law, on the side of the government - invited 50 leading journalists to lunch on November 12.
When the conversation turned to his brother’s health, the prince told the journalists: ‘Anyone who saw that man at the Wye Plantation negotiations was deeply affected by the scene. And since we are all deeply indebted to him, it is incumbent on every one of us to realize how much he has suffered on our behalf. That is because responsibility is not an easy matter. And true sacrifice is known only to those who have tasted its bitterness.’
Part of the debt Jordanians, more than half of whom are Palestinian, owe to their king is presumably his loss of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to Israel in the 1967 war; his declaration of war on the PLO in Jordan in September 1970, forcing its leadership to flee the country, and the peace treaty he concluded with Israel in October 1994, stabbing the Palestinian cause in the back.
In fact, Husain has been openly and tirelessly working on behalf of Israel since the 1994 peace treaty - putting pressure on Arab countries to normalise relations with Tel Aviv, and on the Palestinians to make concessions to keep the Israelis and their US allies happy. This might even lead to his nomination for the Nobel peace prize. At the Hebron accord negotiations in February 1997, for instance, it was the king who broke the deadlock and delivered the hapless Arafat to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But the Israelis, and the Americans for that matter, will not unduly mourn his death, privided prince Hasan takes over in a peaceful succession. They are well satisfied with his credentials as a reliable surrogate.
According to the Jewish Chronicle, the British-educated prince is ‘well-prepared’ to succeed Husain, and the difference between the two men is ‘one of style rather than policy.’ And he understands Jews and Judaism. ‘Whenever he takes over, prince Hasan will bring to his task a deeper understanding of Jewry and Judaism than any other Arab ruler,’ it said. ‘He studied Hebrew at Oxford in the 1960s - to the surprise of his tutor, he stayed to take his finals during the 1967 six-day war. He was seeking reconciliation with Jews a decade before the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty.’
Rabbi Julia Neuberger, who knows the prince well, is equally convinced of his good intentions towards Jews. According to Neuberger, Hasan is well disposed towards Judaism and is more interested in developing links between it and Islam than between Christianity and Islam.
‘Prince Hasan is interested in relationships between Muslims and Jews, both historically and in modern days,’ he says. ‘He certainly knows more about Judaism than most non-Jews I’ve ever met... He is interested in Christianity, too. He went to a Christian school, Harrow. But he seems to feel more strongly about the link between Islam and Judaism.’
Rabbi Neuberger is one of the founding fathers of the high-profile interfaith forum for Muslims, Jews and Christians launched by prince Hasan in the mid-1980s. His co-sponsors were Britain’s prince Phillip and the Anglo-Jewish banker, Evelyn de Rothschild. It still meets every two years, the last gathering being in Jordan a year ago.
A related reason why zionists sing Hasan’s praise, as they do that of the king, is that despite his interest in religions he sees Islamic activism as a threat to the continued prosperity of the Hashimite kingdom. There is indeed no place for hereditary rule in an Islamic order of government.
But even in a hereditary situation, Hasan has serious rivals in the shape of the king’s three sons: Hamze, 18, Ali, aged 23, and 26-year-old Abdullah. The current queen, Noor, is advancing the interests of Hamze, her eldest son, who is well-placed to succeed the king because he was regularly at his bedside in Minnesota. And Queen Noor has always made sure he is constantly with his father, even on official trips. Husain recently told him in public that he was the same age (18) when he succeeded his father - intimating that he wanted Hamze to be king on his death.
One thing which is worrying king Husain is that none of his sons will become crown prince if Hasan succeeds him as king. Under the constitution, Hasan’s son Rashid should become crown prince. But whoever becomes king is in for a rough ride. And the Hashimite kingdom, anachronistic and unloved, is increasingly becoming an endangered species.
Muslimedia: January 16-31, 1999